Last week, I advised someone to zig while others are zagging.
It’s advice that I give often.
Actually, someone reported to me just yesterday that they took this advice and it paid off handsomely, as it almost always does.
Swim against the stream. Find a way to differentiate yourself. Consider the contrarian position. Live life differently than everyone else.
It’s very easy to do what is expected. It’s not especially impressive to follow the line or remain firmly inside the box. Creativity, individuality, and success have rarely been born from a strict adherence to the norms and expectations of the world around you.
You can either safely be like everyone else or boldly do something different.
As I am fond of saying, fortune favors the bold.
But it occurred to me while advising this person to zig when others are zagging that a few things can be especially helpful in this pursuit:
- A supportive partner
If you’re married or blessed with a significant other of any kind, it’s extremely helpful to have their support as you explore uncharted territory. Choosing to blaze a new trail means that you will likely encounter dangers along the way. Hardships and difficulties. Small, angry people who feel enormous discomfort when someone dares to stray off the path. Jealous jackasses who see your courage and creativity as a threat to their own status and position. If your spouse or significant other does not support you in these endeavors, it’s likely that you will find yourself fighting the forces of conformity while also fighting a war at home.
The fact that Elysha supports all of my attempts to zig while others are zagging is immeasurably helpful to my efforts.
- Willingness to fail
This seems like the biggest barrier to zigging. People are afraid to fail. Afraid to try something that might not work, especially when that attempt is made publicly. I see this in my students, and I see this in adults. Risk taking and a willingness to fall on your face is seen by many as a bridge too far, even though when you fail, almost nobody cares, nobody remembers, and it almost never has any longterm negative effect of your future.
In fact, sharing those failures is almost always appreciated and beloved.
But there is good news, too. If the prospect of failure is too much for you… if you’re afraid of taking chances, failing publicly, and being seen as a flawed human being, you can simply choose the path of conformity and mediocrity. If you want to live an average, risk-free life filled with average levels of success and joy, just do what everyone else is doing that will most assuredly be the result.
- Willingness to be afraid
Risk taking means that there will be moments when the next step is frightening. Choosing a path different from everyone else is hard because it is often unknown, uncertain, and potentially hazardous. There may be thorns or pits or tigers along the way.
But as the great Carrie Fisher once said:
“Be afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
Sadly, there is no cure for the fear that comes with daring to zig when others are zagging except to accept the fear as inevitable, zig despite your fear, and discover the rewards that come with bring bold, creative, and fresh. Realizing the benefits of daring to be different is an excellent cure for that fear.
Unfortunately, it takes times and requires courage.
Thoreau wrote that “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
He’s writing about the zaggers, and he’s right. Most people do not zig when others are zagging. As a result, they live quiet, expected, uneventful, desperate lives.
Fear is the mind killer. The life inhibitor. The stifler of greatness.
Fear should be expected. It should be accepted. It should not be an excuse for failing to be bold.
As I’ve said many times:
The right thing and the hard thing are often the same thing.
But it can be a little easier if you have a supportive partner and the willingness to be afraid and possibly fail.